Federal magistrate judge dismisses challenge of Buncher Co.'s Strip District permit

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An environmental group’s effort to use federal law to enforce a city of Pittsburgh green building ordinance was dismissed today.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert C. Mitchell granted a motion for summary judgment sought by the city, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, and The Buncher Co., ending for now a lawsuit by Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, or PennFuture, aiming to enforce the 2010 ordinance in relation to a Strip District development.

Buncher has been battling to demolish the western third of the 1,533-foot-long produce terminal to extend 17th Street to the Allegheny River as part of its proposed $450 million Riverfront Landing office and residential development.

PennFuture argued that under the city ordinance, Buncher had to submit a stormwater management plan for its development near the Allegheny River around 11th Street. Because the city and its water authority did not demand the plan, they were violating a permit they obtained from the state Department of Environmental Protection, which in turn referenced the federal Clean Water Act.

Judge Mitchell found that the permit the city got from the state “in no way imposes a condition that if the ordinances are violated that this results in a violation of the permit itself.” Breaches of federal environmental statutes aren’t necessarily violations of the permit, he added.

Judge Mitchell threw out the count alleging a Clean Water Act violation, and said the lawsuit’s contention that state laws were violated could be heard in Common Pleas Court.

“We’re disappointed in the ruling by the court,” said Heather Langeland, an attorney with PennFuture. “I think the court decided the issue based on arguments that weren’t raised in the pleadings.”

She said the group would meet and decide whether to pursue the case in state court or appeal Judge Mitchell’s decision.

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or on Twitter @richelord.

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